A LEADER’S JOURNEY, Part 2: The Young Kamla Susheila Persad

Part 2: The Emerging

While the young Kamla Persad’s matriarchs set her on a psychological course of resilience, thrift, and empowerment, Kamla had in her world as well, the vision and foresight of her patriarch, her father, Lilraj.

He too was a product of indentureship. His story, and that of his family echoed through time as their paths took them across the tenuous space that was Trinidad. Like her mother Rita, Lilraj was essential in shaping Kamla into the woman who would become one of many firsts for this country.

The quintessential provider, Lilraj embodied the quality of fortitude. He knew the importance of education. As a young man living in Picton, south Trinidad, Lilraj would walk the many, many miles to San Fernando to his earlier job as an attorney’s bookkeeper. Later, while in the accounting department at Texaco, Lilraj was able to witness and experience how education could change one’s course from the known and the expected, to a world of greater and even unknown possibilities. Driven, he became the father that strove to open the minds of his children with inquisition, information and education.

Her father’s and mother’s mantra, “I will suck rice and salt if it means that you would finish your education,” resonated for all their children.

Kamla grew up with a sense of wonder. An unceasing curiosity of wanting to understand the new as well as the unknown became synonymous with her spirit. With her five siblings, weekends were spent packed into a car with her parents as they ventured off into mystery-journeys of exploration. Lilraj had taught his children to be seekers. True pathfinders. The visionary in him taught Kamla that there was a world so much wider than the boundaries of her southern life, fostering in her the yearning for knowledge. 

“Lilraj had forged into his six children, mystery, imagination, and exploration.” 

Kamla, the little girl from Siparia, through those explorations, reveled in finding out about the landmarks and their histories as they made their way on their road-trips. The Mahawal Beach along the south coast, the folktales and legends remembered by just a few, the awe of seeing the AM 610 radio station for the first time, remain indelibly marked in the mind of the now much older Kamla.

Mahawal Beach Road

The lessons in history as Lilraj drove throughout the nooks and crannies of Trinidad, implanted the seed of origins in Kamla and the recognition that beyond the boundaries of conventions and nation lay a world eager to be explored.

And this eagerness, it grew. It flourished. Schooling was a must. Her performance was never impacted despite her family’s many moves, for example, from Boodoo Trace, Penal, to Quarry Village, Siparia, then to High Street, Siparia and further to Charlo Village, Penal, among others.

Even while walking barefoot to school, she was the child who often placed first at the many schools she attended:

at Mohess Road Hindu, at Erin Road Presbyterian, at Siparia Union Presbyterian, at Iere High School, Siparia and, many years later, even while a young mother, at Hugh Wooding Law School. 

Always, at every turn and juncture were her mother, Rita, working to increase their income, and her father, Lilraj, prepared to eat rice and salt to ensure that Kamla would take the blessing of an education. Regardless of the conventions of time, space and culture in the 1960’s, the young Kamla had the blessings of a father and mother who believed in the benefits of education. At first, Lilraj may have been resistant, succumbing to the pressures around him about the role and place of a woman in society. However, Lilraj and Rita eventually stuck firm to their belief that their daughter stood greater chances in being an educated woman. 

Kamla realised that against the many odds of the prejudices which surrounded them, her father, like her mother, believed in education as the passport out of poverty and the key to a better quality of life.

A father who had full faith in the potential of his daughter. That is why Kamla has always placed a special emphasis on education for all children, whether it be building new schools, giving laptops to all Form 1 students, expanding scholarships, expanding GATE, to ensuring that all SEA students were guaranteed a place in secondary school. The sense of exploration and wonder and the thirst for knowledge from her father, combined with the resilience and purpose from her mother, would culminate in fostering a young woman who would go on to become a leader of ground-breaking firsts for equity and social justice for all, breaking barriers for all those who would come after.

Vol. 1, Issue 3